According to the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, hell is having your own way and being stuck with it. Investment hell is similar, except that there typically is a price at which escape is possible, if painful. Of course, we usually languish in investment hell far longer than we need to or should. And we must live with the consequences of our choices, intended or otherwise.
Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” (hell is full of good wishes and desires). This comment has morphed into the proverb, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Since no investment is made with the desire or expectation of failure (unless a relative is involved), Bernard’s offering is readily applicable to investment hell as well.
Despite our best intentions, fear, greed and ego cloud our judgment. Lunch is a long-range plan. We chase what’s hot instead of what’s valuable. We know much less than we think. We’re wrong more often than we think. We want our stories to be true — especially those we tell ourselves — and believe them utterly either way.
We are too skeptical of data, too dismissive of probabilities and too enamored with ourselves. When we’re right, we’re the smartest people in the room, masters of the universe, big swinging dicks. But nobody’s right all the time — not even close. When we’re wrong and in the depths of investment hell, it’s somebody’s else’s fault or bad timing or maybe just plain bad luck. We are readily fooled by randomness but are (not-so-random) fools at least as often. We subscribe to the greater fool theory and think we’re in on the joke.
Dante saw the words “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” written over the gates of hell. Those in investment hell can relate. And we are free to keep on making damned fools of ourselves so long as we have both breath and capital.